Last updated: August 14. 2013 10:42PM - 1789 Views
By - jpetty@civitasmedia.com



Some local folks enjoy the outdoor seating and streetscape of downtown West Jefferson. They are (from left) Angel Sluder of Todd, Jessica Jordan of Lansing, Blakely Miller of Lansing, Ashley Roark of Creston, Alexander Gregory of Todd and Kristy Bledsoe of Todd.
Some local folks enjoy the outdoor seating and streetscape of downtown West Jefferson. They are (from left) Angel Sluder of Todd, Jessica Jordan of Lansing, Blakely Miller of Lansing, Ashley Roark of Creston, Alexander Gregory of Todd and Kristy Bledsoe of Todd.
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Despite a rainy summer, Ashe County tourism numbers seem to be increasing in 2013.


“All areas of the county with the ability to attract visitors are working hard to make it happen,” Cabot Hamilton, executive director of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce said. “We can really be proud of Ashe County.”


Estimates for 2013, calculated by number of visitors the Chamber had, shows visitation in the county up 6.6 percent compared to the first seven months of last year.


Winter quarter numbers were down 5.3 percent compared to last year, but April through July visitation increased 10.4 percent.


Hamilton said he believed a main reason for the increase was the collaboration between West Jefferson and the N.C. DOT which helped make the town more pedestrian friendly. In turn, West Jefferson is more aesthetically pleasing to tourists.


Hamilton said efforts by other organizations such as the Olde Towne Jefferson Business Association and Greater Lansing Area Development also contributed to the increase in tourism.


Niche shops and businesses around the area are also reaping in the benefit.


Josh Williams, a manager of the Ashe County Cheese shop said business has been growing so far in 2013.


“We have had a steady increase every year for the last 15 years,” he said.


Williams said the weather has not kept any business away from the company, which is open year-round.


Ashe County Cheese sales peak from Memorial Day weekend until Christmas, having a longer tourist season than many locations in the county.


Hotels in the area are also having higher occupancy rates than previous years.


“We are doing better than last year,” Raj Chauhan, owner of the Nation’s Inn said. “Our occupancy is higher.”


Chauhan said that because the economy is improving, more people are coming to Ashe County for festivals, events and vacations.


While the number of occupants in hotels is higher, storms in the area have still prevented the businesses from reaching their full potential.


“Weather has caused cancellations,” Chauhan said.


Chauhan said that he believed his occupancy would be up an additional 10 percent if not for cancellations due to the weather.


While shops and hotels are thriving this year, businesses catered for outdoor tourism are not.


The River Girl Fishing Company in Todd is open from April through Nov. 1. Owner Kelly McCoy said this year, business in June and July was way down.


McCoy said her business is not low on tourists, but the weather and water levels determine if the river enthusiasts are allowed to go in the water. During the week of July 4, River Girl had to cancel five days of trips with 100 people scheduled each day.


“Many do try to call and reschedule,” she said. “But it has still been a pretty tough season.”


Although June and July hurt the business, McCoy said that River Girl is having the busiest August the fishing company has experienced in a long time.


Zaloo’s Canoes owner Jedd Farrington echoed McCoy’s experiences during July.


“We made no money in July,” said Farrington, adding that in the 37 years he has run Zaloo’s, this was the wettest summer yet.


However, he said business in August has helped recover some of what was lost in July


He is hopeful as the tourist season winds down.


“We’re open and the river is looking great and we’re expecting a great end of the month, Labor Day and will continue to offer river trips through October,” he said.


Other outdoor establishments, such as Ashe County’s New River State Park, were also affected by the summer rains.


“(The rain) didn’t keep visitors from coming, but it kept them from staying” said Joe Shimel, Park Supervisor for the state park.


As a state park, business was not affected, but the operations of the park were hindered.


Shimel said the constant rain and water levels kept campers and other visitors from enjoying their experience at the park.


Shimel said there was a small drop in visitors for the month of July.


While signs show Ashe County tourism mostly improving, official 2013 tourism statistics will not be released until August of 2014.


Numbers just released by the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development show that 2012 figures for the county’s tourism increased.


In 2012 the county received tourism revenues of $46.5 million, a 2.7 percent increase from 2011.


Ashe County ranks No. 58 in travel impact among North Carolina’s 100 counties, the same ranking as last year.


State and local tax revenues in 2012 brought in $4.79 million for Ashe County.

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